What a total jerk on Twitter taught me about online brand

I have been reading quite a bit lately about creating a personal brand online. The subject fascinates me, not least because I see so many people making a total hash of it by the inane things they post on Facebook, Twitter, blog replies, and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn.

But recently I had such a powerful personal example happen to me, that I feel compelled to share it with you. This small Twitter exchange taught me a huge lesson in how quickly “Brand You” can be harmed by inappropriate online behaviour.

You see recently I was shocked to read a Tweet which, frankly, made a very disparaging remark, directed at me!

TweetDeck advised me I had several “mentions” overnight, and I glanced through them, smiling at some banter with followers, until I struck the Tweet that, for reasons still unknown to me, took a personal shot at me, by name. Look, it wasn’t a vicious remark. But it was personal, it was negative, it was totally unprovoked and of course, it was very public.

Now if this has not happened to you, I can confirm it is an unpleasant experience. The comment was untrue. So it rankled! I obviously clicked on the perpetrators’ Twitter page and found that I had never even heard of the guy! Never had anything to do with him in the real world or the online world, although I did work out he is a Twitter follower of mine (or was!). Nor was his comment in response to any Tweet of mine. It was not even directed to me, but to a third party, about me.

I searched for his LinkedIn page and found he holds a mid-level job in a mostly unknown company. I was not sure if this made me feel better or worse! I racked my brain as to why this stranger would attack me, publicly. I won’t lie to you. It stung. However after about 10 minutes I started to lose interest and decided not to respond in any public way. I resolved to forget about it.

But that’s when it got really interesting. Over the next few hours my Twitter DM inbox (Direct Message) began to fill up with fellow Tweeters who took great umbrage at the remark this guy had made. I had at least 10 in a single day, and the theme was “who is this guy?” and “Who does he think he is” and more specifically “What a rude jerk”, and interestingly “I will never use him or his company again.”

One follower –who I do not know personally at all, and only vaguely remember as an online friend, had done his research on the “offender” and Direct Messaged me to say that he was amazed this guy was in the advertising industry “because he has no idea of how to manage his personal brand”

And it was that remark that struck me hard. In a flash, I realised that it was not MY reputation that had suffered as a result of this online rudeness. It was the reputation and brand of the person who made the remark that had taken a huge hit. Just one Tweet and provoked such an active response from my followers, all echoing disapproval. The question is, how many people read that Tweet and thought “idiot”?

And so the lesson was learned. By me, if not by the person who chose to hurl cyber-insults. Online, we are what we write. In real life we can make a risqué joke to close friends because they “know” us and take the joke in context. In real interpersonal situations we can pass the odd sarcastic comment, accompanied by a smile, and the receiver feels no hurt because there is context and history, which makes it ok and appropriate. Dropping in the odd swear word while chatting with like-minded buddies does not raise an eyebrow because it conforms with the group culture.

Online we have no such protection.

All this got me thinking about my own online “brand”. I have about 27,000 Twitter followers and get thousands of visitors to my blog each month, but a tiny percentage of those people are known to me personally. Yet many of the rest I have what I consider to be a great relationship with. We reply to each other’s Tweets, we DM, we offer advice, and we share good-humoured banter as well as seriously useful data. We pass on knowledge freely, and even do business together.

I thought about how I viewed these people. I have an image of them, they have a “brand “ with me based on their tweets, their humour, the quality of their information and their online generosity. And that ‘brand’ or ‘reputation’ is as real as if I had met them. And I will make decisions to trust them and buy their services based on the brand they have built up with me online, over time.

So the lesson is this. Consider “Brand You” before you Tweet how many beers you sank on Saturday night. Consider ‘Brand You’ before you use gratuitous profanities online. Consider “Brand You” before you post that heavily politicised or semi-pornographic video on your blog spot, after months of building up credibility as a professional.

And of course, consider “Brand You” before you hurl insults at people who might actually have a stronger online brand than your own.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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27 Responses to What a total jerk on Twitter taught me about online brand

  1. Nikki Pilkington October 19, 2009 at 11:49 pm #

    Nice post – glad you didn’t let his comment upset you for more than 5 minutes, and glad your supporters came out to fight!

    I’ve Tweeted this link, but couldn’t link to your Twitter account as I can’t find your profile link?

    Hi Nikki

    Is this what you want?

  2. Alexia Leachman October 20, 2009 at 12:11 am #

    What a great story to remind us of the importance of personal branding and why it’s something that affects us all. So many people I meet don’t seem to understand why personal branding is relevant to them. This example illustrates beautifully, why when we’re in the online space, we must always be mindful of the impression that we create, because that is our brand.

    Greg, thanks for sharing.

  3. Meg Guiseppi October 20, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    What an unfortunate thing to happen to you, Greg.

    If this person’s tweet were completely true, I think his brand reputation would still be tarnished.

    Being snarky on social media (or anywhere), even if your personal brand is all about snarkiness, will probably discredit you. Most people don’t like reading this kind of thing.

    Before they publish disparaging remarks, those nasties should consider that they can have a huge ripple effect that bounces back to bite them.

    I haven’t been hit that hard by an online remark about me yet, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time. You handled it very well. It’s always better to ignore someone like that. I’m glad your close and distant network rallied around you to diminish the sting.

  4. Laura Vezer October 20, 2009 at 8:12 am #

    G’day Greg!

    A great reminder that “we are what we write.”

    Have a great day!

  5. Paula Lee Tuveson October 20, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    Two good reminders (lessons) in your story.

    1. When you know you’ve done the right thing, step back and allow the situation to correct itself, and

    2. Your integrity is all you have, and if that’s in check then #1 will work

  6. Sheila (@stinginthetail) October 21, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    just had something similar happen to me – agree completely about them damaging themselves. Mine was a celebrity – who decided after i tweeted him, that i was a nothing he could abuse with impunity, even in a public forum (Twitter).

    Whilst trying not to be part of any flame war, i decided not to take his crap. I blocked him, but I’ve been able to get an interesting blog on it. Last i saw, he was still abusing people for RT’ing my blog post on him. What a charming person he’s portraying himself as.

    I had similar experiences with my followers – people RT’d my blog on it, DM’d, and have been wonderfully supportive. Humans, eh?

  7. Barnaby Rands October 23, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Nice post Greg,

    Obama warned us of exactly this a few months ago. When addressing a classroom of primary school children, his message was “be careful what you post on facebook”

  8. Gary Franklin October 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

    Excellent post Greg – a great reminder to us all and to those who think that “anything goes” online.

  9. Keith Robinson October 24, 2009 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Greg, as one of Bill’s “merry men” at his up coming unconference you have hit a really on a real trueism. I do a lot of work on “Personal Branding” with MBA’s students and am amazed how “own” they assume they can be in what they write.
    I suspect it is the “private/intimate” nature of our relationship with the laptop, it seems like when we are online in our very private personal space writing we seem to forget that once we hit send/tweet we forget that we become a “publisher”.
    BUT what is great about your story is not the fool BUT the power of the community to defend and their is a bigger lesson their regarding brands and personal branding.

    Takecare sir and next time you are in London look me up

    Keith Robinson

  10. Elaine Hewens October 25, 2009 at 1:33 am #

    Really interesting post, reminds me of those people who talk loudly on the train into their mobile as though no one else is listening – some of the things I hear are amazing, budgets on projects, employee disciplinary action – bank account details – it never ceases to amaze me. So online I believe you are right a great many of them don’t consider that their off the cuff comments may be picked up – I saw a few jaws drop at a recent workshop I ran on career management when I mentioned this!

  11. Dixie Gillaspie January 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Interestingly enough this link was sent to me as an @ mention by someone to whom I responded on twitter. I send him an @ mention after I got HIS autoDM informing me that he wouldn’t follow me unless I clicked on a validation link. I let him know “thanks but if you don’t have time to read my stream and see I’m real you don’t have time for me.” Now I would much prefer to have that conversation privately but – since he won’t follow me until I jump through his hoops I don’t have the option of a DM. He seems to think I am ruining MY brand by letting him know how I feel about autoDMs and validation services but the simple fact is that my brand – on twitter and anywhere – is about engagement. I don’t auto follow, I don’t auto follow back and I don’t auto DM – PERIOD. I consider a validation service the highest form of arrogance as it basically sends a message that “I’m too important to look at your tweet stream to determine if you are a real person that I might have an interest in engaging with but YOU are such a NON-important person that I think you need to take still another step for the privilege of having ME follow YOU.” I WAS disappointed since I had followed him after a close friend listed us both in a #FF tweet.

    I guess since that is a PRIVATE message he doesn’t consider it rude (or at least not a rudeness that will affect his brand) but I wonder if all the people who use that service know that is now part of THEIR brand. I have accumulated over 7000 followers (not by trying really but…) without using those tactics and I, like you, have had great convos with a great many of them and and always open to more conversation. Much of that conversation is through DM which means we follow each other – and somehow I’ve developed those relationships without the use of auto anything. Just people who want to connect to other people. THAT is my brand. But the best part…. I found your blog. See – alls well that ends well! I enjoyed the posts so far and will follow in the future.

  12. Ellison Bloomfield May 25, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    Great post Greg and very true.

    I tried to use my twitter as professional only and found that people said it was too boring, but there is that middle ground between fun banter, conversation and inappropriateness.

    It is easy to become desensitised when using Twitter, Facebook become a habit and no longer something you consciously think about before submitting your thoughts.

  13. Brad Stewart - Talent Capital (NZ) May 25, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Greg, when I first came across your profile I thought to myself ‘with a last name like Savage anyone had better think twice about taking him on’. Maybe this joker should have thought the same… Anyway, a little off the point but, what I like about your writing is your ability to articulate your thoughts into words taken from everyday situations that many of us have experienced or most likely will experience in our industry.

    And for that reason – I thoroughly enjoy your words.

    This is another very good example.

  14. Marianne Curphey May 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    Twitter is fantastic for networking and socialising but I do know several recruitment consultants in financial services who blacklist anyone with a Facebook account, so it does really matter what you post online. It might come back and bite the perpetrator on the bottom, so to speak….

  15. Daniel Rose September 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Great post Greg. It’s a very liberating feeling when you realise you don’t mind at all what people say. It’s probably the tall poppy syndrome that we Aussies are famous for…

  16. Paul Anderson October 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Excellent post, real food for thought as I can be a little ‘flippant’ and without that real knowledge of who I am being flippant with, and the fact people don’t really know the true me, it can be mis-construed. I shall consider my tweets ( a little) more carefully.

  17. Elizabeth November 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    You should never underestimate the impact of what you say on your personal brand. It is amazing how this person thought he had the right to make what was obviously significant /derogatory comments on someone he evidently didn’t know.

  18. Susan April 21, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    My situation is different,but still holds the same lesson. I was running a fundraiser to support a horse in a celebrities name for their birthday. I never really thought about my own personal brand,because I’m just a fan. Other fans were following a conversation I was having with an organizer on if they might consider taking it on a more permanent level. When the organizer said they’d want to change the name so the fundraiser could be applied to more then just one celebrity,some of those reading the tweets got angry. They took a reply I had said to that organizer and started to accuse her and other organizers in the fandom of only wanting to support their favorite celebrity. To THIS day those organizers have me blocked thinking I am the one that started it when all I wanted to do was do something for a celebrity I care about and admire. I was officially blacklisted,and told no one would help me with another fundraiser again.

    The lady I had talked too,turned out to be more about her reputation then the charity and tweeted me publically that I could get in trouble for using said celebrities name. Being that my twitter is personal I cried on my twitter to my friend,but once again what I said was used against me to show me as a nutjob fan…while the lady I had hoped could do good promoted herself as “The professional”

    I sent out apology tweets and explained that yes I am NOT a professional,that I was just a fan that wanted to do a nice thing and help a horse at the same time. Because of all of this MY brand that I didnt even know I had was completely ruined not only with these organizers but the celebrities on twitter as well,because they trust and believe the “professionals”

    It was a very hard and hurtful lesson,and I’m still not sure how tobe me with my friends and also have this so called “Brand”

  19. Kristin (@kntoepfer) June 20, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    I think Greg is spot-on about everyone’s personal brand. I’m still shocked by what people post online with their photo and name attached (and the company where they work!) Does it really matter that people state in their Twitter bio “tweets are my own”? I could argue that you represent your company 24/7–people get fired every day for something they did outside of work.

    Though I’d be tempted to respond to an angry or insulting Twitter rant, I think Greg did the right thing by not doing so. I just read a great article by Jayme Soulati on how to manage negative comments: http://soulati.com/how-do-you-manage-negative-blog-comments/

  20. Heath@laborslist October 4, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    It’s amazing I caught this blog, I’m building a recruitment website that I had a vision where each person is able to brand theirself. It’s like resumes we have, we are passionate about them and its really our “brand” we have for the career we have accomplished. I think every person has their brand and when you think about it, it’s how you use it!

    This is a great post!!

  21. John Kreiss October 28, 2012 at 3:38 am #

    Great reminders Greg. It’s important to know your audience, and online, that could be hundreds of thousands of people. One stupid comment can do a lot of harm for sure.

  22. Wil Graham January 5, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Greg I think you did a good job ignoring this Troll. Nicely put together post.

    I was always told “Don’t write or say anything you wouldn’t be happy to see on the front page of the News of the world (that would be the Sun on Sunday now) or defend in court.

    Not responding is the best policy. Its difficult to have a argument/ fight if no one else is playing.

    • Greg Savage January 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      Thanks Will, I was tempted to respond all guns blazing , but in the end not doing that worked out well…:)

  23. David Reid April 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Hi Greg,

    On the money, coincidentally, I have just spent the last 2 days training RZ staff specifically on personal brand.

    This is an incredibly important subject.

    Onwards and upwards Greg, good luck in Africa.

    Best regards

  24. Scott Brown November 28, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Greg, your post reminded me of that example some 8 months ago of an Executive Recruiter who posted disparaging remarks against a well known person. This recruiter, tagged fully with name, location and role as principal of a rec firm, was publicly chastised for it, and suffered immense brand damage accordingly. This included widespread press reporting and a huge Twitter backlash. Point is, branding is king and damage from an innocuous comment on Twitter or Facebook or LI can come back and bite you tenfold. Care is always needed in these regards.


  1. What a total jerk on Twitter taught me about on... - November 19, 2013

    […] I have been reading quite a bit lately about creating a personal brand online. The subject fascinates me, not least because I see so many people making a total hash of it by the inane things they post on Facebook, Twitter, blog replies, and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn.But recently I had such a powerful personal example happen to me, that I feel compelled to share it with you. This small Twitter exchange taught me a huge lesson in how quickly “Brand You” can be harmed by inappropriate online behaviour.You see recently I was shocked to read a Tweet which, frankly, made a very disparaging remark, directed at me!TweetDeck advised me I had several “mentions” overnight, and I glanced through them, smiling at some banter with followers, until I struck the Tweet that, for reasons still unknown to me, took a personal shot at me, by name. Look, it wasn’t a vicious remark. But it was personal, it was negative, it was totally unprovoked and of course, it was very public.  […]

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